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The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness

4.29  ·  Rating details ·  13,244 ratings  ·  1,221 reviews
Elyn Saks is a success by any measure: she's an endowed professor at the prestigious University of Southern California Gould School of Law. She has managed to achieve this in spite of being diagnosed as schizophrenic and given a "grave" prognosis—and suffering the effects of her illness throughout her life.

Saks was only eight, and living an otherwise idyllic childhood in s
Hardcover, 340 pages
Published August 14th 2007 by Hachette Books
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Jul 28, 2010 rated it it was amazing
It's a little sad and frustrating when people read this and say things like "whenever she's off her meds, she has an episode, she should just stay on them!".

The most difficult thing in treating mentally ill people is getting them to take and stay on their meds for reasons she details in her book. First, there are usually pretty severe side effects such as permanent nerve damage that causes you to twitch and spasm constantly, have trouble thinking clearly, have no energy and put on a lot of weigh
Always Pouting
This is a memoir by a lawyer who has severe schizophrenia and talks about struggling to deal with it while getting through school and then using her unique insight into it to help others with mental illness. If anyone likes TED talks I know the author has one where she discusses it also. I enjoyed the TED talk more than the actual memoir mostly because TED talks force you to cut down to the most important events or ideas but the memoir seemed to drag in a lot of places. It's interesting but at t ...more
I have this fascination for mental health memoirs. I’ve read about a dozen or so, among them: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, which is brilliant, one of the essential books of my life; Memoirs of My Nervous Illness by Daniel Paul Schreiber; Awakenings by Oliver Sacks, this more of a multi-persona biography than a memoir; William Styron’s Darkness Visible; Kay Redfield Jamison’s An Unquiet Mind; Andrew Solomon’s The Noonday Demon; Frigyes Karinthy’s A Journey Round My Skull; and The Co ...more
Moira Russell
Hmmm, this was....interesting. Rather poorly written: emotionally flat all through, often repetitive and very 'cerebral' - the outer sensuous world almost entirely lacking. The middle part, where she describes a full-scale breakdown resulting in restraints and involuntary medication, is harrowing, and should be required reading for medical students, legal students, and indeed psychiatric caregivers. However, her insistence on always having been the best at everything, ever ("I was valedictorian. ...more
jv poore
I recently visited a few high school English classes to introduce Nic Sheff's first novel, Schizo.

In Schizo, the main character, a 16-year old boy, tries to learn how to live with Schizophrenia. After I explained that I felt that it was very important for us to work together to reduce the stigmas often associated with mental health disorders, one of the students enthusiastically recommended Ms. Saks' book.

I have never been disappointed with a book that a student recommends.
Aug 29, 2007 rated it really liked it
This book is written by a friend/mentor of mine at USC. It was extremely bizarre to read something so intimate by & about someone I know, so my experience of reading it will be different from the experience of others. That said, I think it's quite powerful. What Elyn is able to pull off is describing, from her currently "sane" place, what it feels like to be severely schizophrenic. Her bridge-building into that experience is rare and worthwhile, and can move a reader's empathy for the mentally i ...more
Swaroop Kanti
Jul 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing
The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness by Elyn R. Saks

This is a remarkable memoir by Elyn R. Saks. An inside peek of the experiences she had while going through mental illness. Elyn R. Saks has recounted many years of her life, in detail. Instead of falling apart and giving in, Elyn fought back and this helped her to continue to live a fulfilling life.

"The HUMAN BRAIN comprises about 2 percent of a person's total body weight, but it consumes upward of 20 percent of that body's oxyg
K. Elizabeth
Wow. This was wonderful and terrifying. But mainly it was incredibly eye-opening.
 Sarah Lumos
“There’s days I feel guilty for feeling so good”

Damn, this book left me speechless.

If you or someone you know copes with a mental illness, then read this book. Heck, even if mental illness has played no role in your life, read this book. To me, Elyn R. Saks embodies the epitome of resilience - the ability to bounce back and keep going when things get difficult. She is a TED speaker, ivy league graduate, renowned academic at the University of Southern California Gould Law School, plus a tota
Jul 19, 2008 rated it liked it
The Center Cannot Hold offers a rare peek into the raging mind of a schizophrenic. While the author is anything but a case study (she is brilliant and accomplished even by mentally intact standards, whereas schizophrenia is usually accompanied by low IQ and functional impairment) her uncommon mental clarity enables her to shed light on an otherwise inscrutable disorder.

Of the several memoirs of mental illness I've read, this book offers the most convincing dialogue of psychotic and depressed cha
Mar 26, 2013 rated it liked it
I'm going to totally and consciously cop out on this review. Yes, the book was maddening to read at times given the "one step forward, five steps back" nature of her journey. And I beat myself up throughout most of it, as my impatience with Saks's actions grew. She takes the meds. She feels better on the meds. She insists on abandoning the meds. She goes "floridly psychotic," gets hospitalized and has a horrific time of it. Multiply that sequence by 20-25 and you get the first 300 pages of the b ...more
howl of minerva
Elyn Saks is an unusual figure to say the least. An academic superstar: Vanderbilt valedictorian, Marshall scholar to Oxford for graduate study in philosophy (Aristotle's metaphysics in the Greek no less), Yale Law School, tenured faculty at U South California, MacArthur "Genius" Fellow. And since her late teens, battling with schizophrenia: disabling and terrifying bouts of delusions and hallucinations.

High-functioning people with mood disorders like depression or bipolar disorder are all arou
Feb 24, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
4.5 stars!

This is an eye-opening memoir by a fascinating woman. Elyn R. Saks is a highly functioning intelligent woman with multiple higher degrees from places like Oxford and Yale and she just happens to have Schizophrenia. In this memoir she does battle with her demons and for the most part she wins. I found this to be extremely inspiring.

It is also a look into the way we treat mental health especially in the US. It's pretty bad.
Apr 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I finished this book in tears of joy. I don't know if I can do justice to how much this book moved me as a person with schizoaffective disorder. I've read many books by people who have bipolar disorder and some by parents of people with schizophrenia but this was my first book written by someone who has schizophrenia. That sentence is a mess but I think you can gather the gist.

The fact that Elyn is hospitalized and so greatly affected by her schizophrenia, yet goes on to lead a richly successfu
Sep 03, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: those interested in a personal account of schizophrenia
Saks presents an articulate and honest portrayal of her life with schizophrenia, from its early days to the present. She doesn't deny the severity of her symptoms, while also acknowledging that the life she's built for herself is atypical -- she is a married, tenured law professor at USC with degrees from Vanderbilt, Oxford, and Yale. The most devastating part for me was Saks' account of her days in the Yale psychiatric centers, acting out and recognizing that the staff didn't particularly care ...more
Dec 09, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Elyn R. Sak's The Center Cannot Hold tells the story of the author, a Yale law school graduate from a well-to-do family who deals with her chronic depressive schizophrenia amidst the struggles of school, a career, and her own willpower. The book is set in a number of places, such as Miami, Britain, New Haven, and Los Angeles, in the time period between the 1960s and the 1990s, when the world was just learning about how serious mental illnesses can be. Hoping gain some sense of being normal, Saks ...more
Jul 20, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Elyn was an amazing individual, with schizophrenia, under the best possible circumstances. She acknowledges that her supportive upbringing, affluence, opportunity for psychoanalysis, extreme intelligence and sheer determination are valid factors contributing towards academic success, not being homeless or institutionalized indefinitely and having the ability to form friendships and meaningful relationships. While a struggle to incorporate the three indwelling entities (her as a doctor, her as th ...more
Sep 24, 2012 rated it really liked it

The more I study the issue of schizophrenia, the more I realize what tremendous courage it takes for anyone to talk about living with it -- let alone a professor at a major university.

In this gripping, literate memoir, Elyn Saks talks about her lifelong struggle with paranoid schizophrenia, from the time she was a young woman to the present, working as a tenured law professor at the University of Southern California. Growing up in Miami, she was always a talented student. Then, as a teenager, he
A truly eye-opening book. I thought I had a basic understanding of what schizophrenia was, but Saks really proved me wrong. She describes her experiences eloquently and expresses both her feelings and delusions well, resulting in a powerful memoir that gives you a short glimpse into what it's like for her living with schizophrenia.

Her accomplishments are extraordinary, regardless of her diagnosis. I can only hope to be as successful as she in the academic world one day, as it takes a lot of amb
Nov 29, 2014 rated it liked it
Elyn Saks suffers from schizophrenia and says she wrote this book to demonstrate that people with this illness can lead rich and successful lives. She herself teaches at a top law school, has had psychoanalytic training, has written a number of scholarly articles and is married to a kind and understanding man. As a psychiatrist, I found her infuriating, and I imagine her doctors over the years did, too. She takes forever to realize that she absolutely must take antipsychotic medication and, desp ...more
Lindsay Stoffers
Jan 19, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Unfortunately, schizophrenia as a health condition is often misunderstood. People tend to make assumptions based off of out dated notions of what mental illness is and is not and in turn feed into the stigma of mental health disorders. Elyn Saks tells her story with incredible honesty and vulnerability. In "The Center Cannot Hold" Dr. Saks shares a deeply personal account of her life. As a second year master's student, majoring in Mental Health Counseling, I am so grateful for her courage to sha ...more
Sep 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
Fascinating story told by a schizophrenic woman who managed to graduate Yale Law and then become a tenured professor, all the while struggling against delusions and other symptoms. Not a poetic book but it felt very honest and it was a way to get a bit of a clue to what psychosis must feel like.
Apparently on a roll with reading memoirs related to my diagnosis.

Can't believe my psychiatrist recommended I read this. This book left me utterly cold.

Her experience in the psych ward was moving (I cried) but her pull yourself up by your bootstraps mentality is frustrating, as is the fact that her self-worth revolves around her being the best, the smartest, etc., etc. When the author's psychoanalyst describes her as "a republican" when it comes to the mentally ill they are not kidding. Her lac
Modern Hermeneut
Oct 13, 2007 rated it really liked it
An eye-opening memoir. What it what it lacks in stylistic flare, it more than makes up for in bracing sincerity. The author pulls back the curtains on the subjective experience of schizophrenia.

This is an unflinching testament of what it FEELS like -- not just what it LOOKS like from the outside -- to be in the grip of psychosis. It's also an indictment of the draconian methods often used to "treat" psychotic patients.

Even readers who are well-versed in the literature of psychopathology will fin
Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship
This seems to be the schizophrenia memoir, and it comes as no surprise that it’s written by a very accomplished, successful person: going public with an account of one’s psychosis and delusions could be career-ending for many people, but when you’re a tenured professor at a prestigious law school, with a stack of degrees and publications, you can basically do what you want. Still, it’s a gutsy thing to publish.

This is an account of the author’s life from childhood up to probably her 50s, though

Okay, let's get the not-so-great over with first. The writing isn't always great; it's sometimes a bit repetitive and the author's high-achieving academic history is mentioned a bit too often. And there was a bit near the end when I got a bit bored - I'm not really that interested in the details of anyone's wedding cake, to be honest.

But the good bits? They are fabulous. This is honest, insightful and raw. As someone with secondary personal (i.e. not me but about as close as otherwise possib
“Oh, they’re nice. Do you like spice? I ate it thrice. They’re all hurting me! They’re hurting me and I’m scared!” (p. 191)

Elyn Saks' The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness is an unusual mental illness memoir, of which there are many. Saks is clearly bright, capable, and competent – graduating from Vanderbilt, Oxford, and Yale Law School, teaching and working in administration at University of Southern California – and also frequently actively delusional and unable to function. At h
Jan 06, 2016 rated it it was amazing
To be succinct, I think this is a very moving book. Though it's obviously hard for me to say, I felt like The Center Cannot Hold does a great job of conveying what it's like to live with Schizophrenia". That's a very general statement, though, so I figured I would talk a bit about some more specific details of her book which stuck out to me.

In particular, I found her descriptions of the onsets of her psychotic episodes very chilling. Going from fully professional to incoherent and free-associati
May 10, 2015 rated it really liked it
Elyn Saks is a law professor at University of Southern California Law School and a psychiatry adjunct at University of California School of Medicine. She is also a research clinical associate at the New Center for Psychoanalysis. Professional success aside, Elyn is married, apparently happily. She also has schizophrenia.

In this memoir, Saks recounts her life as, on the one hand, a highly successful individual, and on the other, someone who repeatedly cycled through a series of breakdowns as she
Erika Palmquist Smith
Jan 25, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: mental-health, 2013
This is easily the best book I've read this year, and one of the best "layman's" books about mental illness that I've ever read. The author, a law professor at USC who struggles with schizophrenia, provides a wonderfully lucid description of what it is like to suffer the symptoms of hallucinations and delusions. She touches on her own personal experiences with hospitalization, the use of restraints, and medication compliance but also ties it into the broader legal implications of decisions like ...more
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Elyn R. Saks, training to be a psychoanalyst, specializes in mental health law, criminal law, and children and the law. Her recent research focused on ethical dimensions of psychiatric research and forced treatment of the mentally ill. She teaches Mental Health Law, Mental Health Law and the Criminal Justice System, and Advanced Family Law: The Rights and Interests of Children. She also teaches at ...more

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